Until very recently, pawpaws have been one of those mythical fruits that I’ve known about for ages, but have never seen in person. Until just a few years ago I was under the mistaken impression that they are native to the Southeastern United States, but not available here. Chalk it up to geographical ignorance; I should have paid more attention during Geography class.
I now know that there are pawpaw trees that not only thrive in our slightly cooler climate, but at least one, Asimina triloba, that is native to this region. Imagine that? While it is widely known that I am a winter wimp that should start complaining about the cold and the hardships endured any day now, the fact is that this part of Canada is not the Yukon. We have a nice long growing season and our summers are as hot as can be, just hot and long enough to grow some pretty fantastic tomatoes, peppers, and even tomatillos that typically require a long season.
Contrary to popular belief, we do not receive our mail by dogsled, nor do we live in igloos.
In fact, I live in south end of Toronto, closest to Lake Ontario (one of the Great Lakes) and as a result enjoy both the snuggly benefits of the concrete jungle and a warming lake effect. I grew up in the Niagara Region, a part of this province that is widely known as a fruit and wine producer. Niagara is one of the warmest parts of this region, the result of sitting between several bodies of water including two Great Lakes and underneath an escarpment.
When I first heard about pawpaws in this region, I was told they are primarily found in Niagara. Since then they have enjoyed a renewed interest from Toronto backyard gardeners looking to plant native fruit trees, and are beginning to pop up all over the place. These days everyone seems to be talking about pawpaws.
I was pleasantly surprised when they showed up at The Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market last Thursday. The price was high (about $4 for 2), but worth it to finally get a taste of this mysterious fruit. I bought two: one that was ripe and ready for eating, and an unripe specimen for picture-taking.
A ripe pawpaw is not particularly pretty to behold. It is mushy and brown-black with a strong fragrance that reminds me of a cross between mango and bananas with a hint of pear thrown it. It’s no shock that pawpaws have a familiar, tropical smell since they are related by family to sweetsop (one of my very favourite tropical fruits) and custard-apple. They taste like they smell, although both of mine have had a bitter aftertaste that wasn’t very appealing. Despite an initial letdown, I’m willing to give it one more shot since there is always the chance that it was a bad year or a bad crop. I never give up on a fruit entirely until I’ve tried it at least three times to be fair.
Having never grown pawpaw myself, I don’t know much about their cultivation needs (perhaps some of you with personal experience can chime in), but I do know that if you want to produce a decent crop, you’ll need to make room for two trees. I’ve heard they are not easy to germinate but my friend Barry managed to germinate an entire tray of seedlings so it is certainly possible.
I gave the seeds away from my first plant and will happily give away the 10 seeds from my second fruit to the first two interested readers.
Let me know in the comments and I’ll email you back for your mailing address. They’re gone. Thanks.